Bible reading for April 9 -- Leviticus 13; Psalms 15-16.
"The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp." (Leviticus 13:45-46)
The ultimate social distancing (Lev 13). Few diseases were more feared in the ancient middle-east than leprosy. The term may denote a number of chronic skin diseases, as well as the molds that would affect objects and homes. These conditions were serious and life-altering. The symptoms are treated at length in this chapter, but as I noted yesterday, the Israelites were being trained by Moses to make careful distinctions about cleanness and uncleanness, and medical diagnoses (a form of discernment) was one of them. How relevant this chapter is with its seven-to-fourteen day quarantines and washings (13:4-5), keeping social distance, and covering the mouth with one's hand as a kind of face mask (13:45-46). And this is from 3500 years ago!
Outside the camp. The leper, once pronounced unclean, would then live a life of extreme social isolation. If a person were blind or paralyzed they could at least be cared for at home by family and loved ones. But the leper must live alone, away from healthy people, and avoid social contact, with its conversation, embraces, and human touch. Lepers could not participate in worship at the tabernacle, or later, the temple. He or she would be viewed as a kind of religious, social, and medical pariah. Yet, being "outside the camp" was not being without hope. Portions of the sin offering were burned outside the camp (Ex 29) and Moses met the Lord outside the camp (Ex 33). Most importantly, we are told that Jesus himself suffered outside the camp, or more exactly, outside the gate of the holy city Jerusalem, crucified as a religious pariah by the side of the road (Heb 13:11-12). Our Savior died in social isolation: "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34)
The touch of Jesus. Given the danger of transmission -- whether of the disease or of the ritual uncleanness that came with it -- it is remarkable that Jesus reached out and touched the lepers to make them whole: "And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.' And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, 'I will; be clean.' And immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (Matt 8:2-3). Normally, a ritually clean person touching an unclean person would be made unclean. And illness usually transfers itself from the unhealthy person to the healthy, not vice versa. But with Jesus things ran the other way. His touching the leper did not make Jesus unclean, rather, it made the leper clean. Instead of Jesus contracting any uncleanness or illness, it was his health and wholeness, so to speak, that made the leper healthy and whole.
And so it is with salvation. We bring to Jesus our desperate condition, and he brings to us the healing touch that we need. His death removes the defilement of our sin, and his life restores us to the warmth of God's community with himself, with others, and with his creation. If we do not come to Christ in faith we will remain "outside" (see Rev 22:14-15). But in Christ we need not fear ever being cast out, abandoned, or isolated. We need not fear even the temporary condition of social distancing and quarantines!
"For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:10-11)
Speaking of abandonment and isolation, this psalm of David (Ps 16) teaches us that his greater Son, the Messiah, would not be abandoned to decay in a grave. This psalm is one of my favorites. Not only does it speak of the resurrection of our Lord (Acts 2:25-28), but also of the overwhelming joy that exists in the Father's presence. This is a great verse to combat those negative thoughts that God is some kind of cosmic kill-joy. Eternal life in God's presence is a life filled with joy and pleasure!
The project so far. This post marks one hundred days of writing on the Bible, chapter by chapter. My aim is not to have a comprehensive commentary on Scripture (as if), or even just a devotional thought about the daily Bible reading. Over my nearly fifty years as a Christian, at some point every chapter of the Bible has been my companion and guide. We are a people of the Book. My intent is to highlight in as many chapters as possible what I see as the main truths and connecting themes revealed there. Much of this comes from my pastoral study and ministry over the past thirty-five years. It's like I'm sitting with you at a table in the coffee shop (as I have done for many years, and how I miss it!) and asking the question, "What's important about this chapter? Why is it here? How should I understand it?" If these posts have been of any help to you, please let me know somewhere along the way. And congratulations to you who have completed three months of this year's daily Bible reading!
Image credit: photo by Kristian Tripcovic on Unsplash.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The NET Bible is a free online resource of Bible.org.